Walt Whitman

(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892 / New York / United States)

Had I the Choice


Had I the choice to tally greatest bards,
To limn their portraits, stately, beautiful, and emulate at will,
Homer with all his wars and warriors--Hector, Achilles, Ajax,
Or Shakespeare's woe-entangled Hamlet, Lear, Othello--Tennyson's fair ladies,
Meter or wit the best, or choice conceit to weild in perfect rhyme, delight of singers;
These, these, O sea, all these I'd gladly barter,
Would you the undulation of one wave, its trick to me transfer,
Or breathe one breath of yours upon my verse,
And leave its odor there.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Rinda Suparatana (6/17/2006 1:45:00 PM)

    Whitman is a speaker in this poem. Nearing the end of his life I think he is reflecting on his work. He expresses the yearning of all poets to be able to express in words the beauty and power of nature. The “choice” to which he refers is the choice between being able to craft poetry like the worlds greatest poet or being able to truly capture the essence of the ocean. He obviously would eagerly trade the skills of the former for the ability to express the latter.

    I think this Whitman poem is written in free verse. The rhythm of the poem changes dramatically when Whitman makes his plea to the sea for the ability or the “trick” to write verse in a way that captures the power and the wave in the ocean (lines 6 to 7) . (Report) Reply

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